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All-time favourite movies

by Mike Archibald
In rough, imperfect order. LA REGION CENTRALE: Okay, the first time seeing this was a bit of a slog- or rather, it became a slog. My wonderful teacher Peter Rist insists on showing this every time he teaches “Moving Camera Aesthetic” at Concordia, my alma mater. At the time of my first viewing I was just inching my way into iterative, long-take cinema. That’s a broad category, I guess, but it’s serviceable enough if you use it carefully and with a grain of salt. What I mean is stuff like Tsai, Haneke, Hou, Jia, Costa and, going further back, Tarkovsky, Angelopolous and Antonioni….filmmakers who take you well past the point of visual… Read more

In rough, imperfect order.

LA REGION CENTRALE: Okay, the first time seeing this was a bit of a slog- or rather, it became a slog. My wonderful teacher Peter Rist insists on showing this every time he teaches “Moving Camera Aesthetic” at Concordia, my alma mater. At the time of my first viewing I was just inching my way into iterative, long-take cinema. That’s a broad category, I guess, but it’s serviceable enough if you use it carefully and with a grain of salt. What I mean is stuff like Tsai, Haneke, Hou, Jia, Costa and, going further back, Tarkovsky, Angelopolous and Antonioni….filmmakers who take you well past the point of visual comprehension within the single shot. As far as I know (and my knowledge of experimental cinema is pretty limited), Michael Snow is the prime exemplar of this ethic in the non-narrative field. When I saw LRC, I was at the point where this approach to shot length was interesting more as a concept than as an experience, and so the movie became redundant after about an hour. It’s a complaint that I heard a lot from my classmates in regard to “difficult,” conceptually marginal movies: “Yeah, it’s a cool idea, but not so much fun as an experience- at least after the first _____ minutes.” That’s the, ah, wavelength I was on when I first saw Snow’s film. And yeah, I dozed a bit.

Viewing number two came in the same class, a few years later- this time, I came to sit in on the screening. In the interim I’d gone from viewing filmmakers like those above with a mixture curiosity, obligation and reluctance to genuine pleasure- often bliss. I think what I love about the radically long take is the paradoxical dynamic of freedom and confinement- being locked in temporally and freed visually. (It’s one that Snow transgresses, to a degree, with LRC’s aesthetic.) Coercion and liberation are often close cousins- in art, in politics (gulp), on the basic levels of perception. LRC is about the root processes of perception, and part of what I love about it is that it takes such a willfully idiosyncratic path through that realm. There’s a cinematic essentialism to Snow’s push for radical- and, on some necessary level, simple- motion picture viewing, and he’s cocky enough to filter that simplicity through an extremely narrow mode. The shot duration gives us time with as little mediation as possible, but the incessant, warping camera movement is as personal and skewed as can be. That’’s the self-reflexive aspect of the film that I respond to: the strong, wordless statement that real time and radical directorial intervention are one. Anyway, my second viewing was uninterrupted bliss. I don’t know if this work would move me like it does in a different cultural-historical context. But the late-capitalist urban West that I’ve always lived in is all about abbreviation and bombardment, on both a visual and sonic level. I’d never claim to hate these phenomena completely- like millions of people, I swim in them, often happily. But LRC has special power in a world where sound and vision exist in a radical surplus of volume and a radical deficit of substantiality. Seeing this movie- both times- had a healing pleasure on one of the deepest possible levels for me. Snow’s achievement is to induce hypnosis and heightened self-consciousness simultaneously, and it’s one that he shares with so many of our best filmmakers, especially contemporary ones. Here the stasis of duration and the instability of perspective give the viewer- give ME, at least- the gifts of a virginal sense of seeing and an awesomely forceful alienation, and the two create each other. Time is constant but vision is entropic.

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